Testing out the new elementary school intervention programs

One goal of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District for this academic year is to have all students leaving third grade at grade level for reading proficiency by year’s end. Lynn Fitzpatrick, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, with input from Superintendent Louann Carlomagno, devised an elementary reading intervention program to meet this goal. Rolled out at all five elementary schools this fall, the program will be put to the test when students take their benchmark exams in late February.

The intervention program specifically targets students in kindergarten through third grade, catching students before problems arise in upper grades where more rigorous reading skills are required. Class sizes are kept extremely small – around six students – based on evidence that intervention works better when conducted in small groups. “Instead of waiting for kids to fail, now we deliver intervention right away,” said Fitzpatrick.

In response to a lack of summer school at the elementary level at the end of the 2009-2010 school year due to budget cuts, the district changed direction, making funding available for the intervention program instead. “Principals said that if they could intervene in a ‘just-in-time fashion,’ it would be more beneficial for their students than waiting until summer school and attempting to reteach students in relatively large classes. About $150,000 was saved through the reduction in full-scale elementary summer school.  This was returned to sites as both a block grant and a ‘by need grant,’ said Fitzpatrick.  “In addition, a portion of the funds were withheld to cover the cost of a second, later bus route to ensure that all students who need intervention receive it.”

Each school was tasked with creating its own plan, particular to the site and best serving the needs of its students. Most sites went through a cycle of inquiry with faculty to identify students in the target group.

“It was a terrific project and the schools truly targeted those students who could benefit – and benefit quickly – from the programs,” said Fitzpatrick.

Some schools opted to run the intervention program after school while others handled it during regular school hours and some schools did both. Whatever the case, the feedback from school sites has been positive, according to Fitzpatrick.

While Prestwood is just one of the five schools running the intervention program, at this point are one of the schools with measurable results that Principal Beth Wolk was happy to share. The first session of Prestwood’s After School Intervention program began on Nov. 2 and ran through Dec. 14. The one-hour sessions were held twice weekly with 90 students divided between 13 teachers – an average of about six students per teacher and adhering to another program goal of keeping intervention classes small.

“The sessions were very targeted, very organized and everybody made progress,” said Wolk. As evidence, she touts the pre- and post-testing scores showing the increase in each student’s proficiency level. Prestwood will begin another intervention session on Feb. 8. In the meantime, teachers are analyzing earlier benchmark tests and targeting additional students for the program.

“I really have to compliment the district on this program,” said Wolk. “In all my years I’ve never seen a program this good and I’m not the only person who feels this way.”

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